Somewhere in hell, Joseph Stalin is smiling

Tony Keller writes:

In the 1930s, that great legal innovator Joseph Stalin introduced the show trial. The accused would stand up in court and willingly, even eagerly, confess to the most fantastical crimes. At the first great show trial, in 1936, Grigori Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and other former senior Communist party members admitted to being members of a terrorist organization. They said they had plotted to kill Stalin and other Soviet leaders. In the following years, as Stalin’s purges picked up steam, show trials featured increasingly incredible stories, usually involving the accused admitting to being agents of Western imperialism.

What made men confess to things that were unlikely, sometimes impossible and usually unsupported by other evidence? Torture. Sleep deprivation, beatings, and threats against their wives and children. To stop the pain, you had to confess to whatever it was that the interrogators wanted to hear. And then you had to get up in court and willingly confess to it all over again.

The trial of Omar Khadr has been called a travesty of justice, a violation of the rule of law, a kangaroo court and lots of other things beside. But what it really was, was a show trial.

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2 thoughts on “Somewhere in hell, Joseph Stalin is smiling

  1. Stephen Ward

    “Indeed, the actual boundaries of human equilibrium are very narrow, and it is not really necessary to use a rack or hot coals to drive the average human being out of his mind.”

    Gulag Archipelago

  2. Christopher Hoare

    It would be interesting to know how many of the general public believe the indictments and conclusions of the court were grounded in fact.

    Hell — it would be interesting to know if any of the prosecutors believed the indictments they were prosecuting and the so-called evidence admitted in court. As for the judges … well, they could recluse themselves, so we know.

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